Lussekatter (Lucia saffron buns) are traditionally eaten on the day of Lucia. Each bun is shaped into an ‘S’, which is supposed to resemble a cat’s tail. Nobody knows for sure the origins of the shape and the connection with Saint Lucia, but it seems likely that they were originally called djävulskatter (the devil’s cats).
‘Lucia’, is known today as the ‘Festival of Light’, celebrated on the 13th December. The tradition dates back to the fourth century when a young girl, Lucia, wearing candles on her head, served food and drink to the persecuted Christians imprisoned in the catacombs of Rome.
In modern Sweden, children dress in white: the girls wear a wreath of lingonberry foliage and the boys wear white pointy hats known as Stjärngossar (star boys) The eldest daughter of a local family is chosen to wear a crown of 7 candles and a red sash around her waist to lead the celestial procession of children into the candlelit church singing the beautiful song, ‘Sankta Lucia’.
These delicious saffron scented buns are served either for breakfast with coffee or as a fika treat with a steaming glass of glögg; a spiced alcoholic drink steeped with raisins, ginger, cloves and cinnamon.
This enriched sweet dough is very popular in Scandinavia and especially at Christmas with the addition of saffron. The dough is silky smooth and very easy to a handle. There are many different shapes to try however most popular is the ‘S’ shape cat.
Lussekatter – Lucia Saffron Buns
- 1 g saffron threads
- 1/2 Tbls boiling water
- 30 g yeast or 7g Fast action yeast
- 90 g sugar
- 280 ml milk
- 1 large egg beaten
- 90 g butter diced and at room temperature
- a pinch of salt
- 500 g strong white bread flour
- 36 raisins
- Place the saffron threads with the salt in a mortar and grind with the pestle, pour over the boiling water and leave to stand for at least 10 minutes. Place the raisins in bowl, pour some hot water over them and then leave them until required.
- Sift the flour and pour into a stand-mixer bowl, stir in the sugar and fast action yeast if using. Pour the saffron into the milk and heat in a saucepan to 38C add the yeast and stir.
- Fit the dough hook to your stand-mixer and with the machine running on minimum slowly add the milk mixture, then add ¾ of the egg and finally the diced butter, reserving the rest of the egg for glazing.
- Mix for 5- 6 minutes or until the dough is silky and shiny.
- Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball. Clean out the bowl and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm draught-free place for 20-30 minutes or until it has doubled in size.
- Tip the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knock it back a couple of times. Divide into 16 pieces, approximately 65g and 70g each.
- Roll out each piece so that it is about 30 cm (12") long and curl into tight S shapes. Place each piece on a lined or greased baking sheet, cover loosely and leave for about 30-40 minutes until doubled in size again.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C fan. Place a raisin in each scroll of the bun and brush with remaining egg. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown and sound hollow when you tap the under side.
- As an alternative bake Lussekatter with cardamom topped with sugar. Add a teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom to the flour. Bake as per the recipe but without the egg wash. Cool then brush with melted butter and sprinkle with golden caster sugar. Not traditional but really delicious!
- Traditionally pepparkakor (gingersnap snaps) are served with Lussekatter on the day of Lucia, you can find the recipe here.